Here’s what you need to know before starting ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’

Middle-earth: Shadow of War expands on its predecessor Shadow of Mordor in nearly every way, including strategic siege mechanics, a more complex combat system, and more varied orc war chiefs to fight or “dominate.” All of this makes the game more engaging but all these systems can be overwhelming for newcomers. Over dozens of hours, we have spent time mastering Shadow of War and we’re here to help if you’re just getting started. Here is what you need to know to go from a beginner to the master of Mordor.

Combat

You spend a large portion of Shadow of War battling lowly orcs and trolls, as well as more powerful orc captains — named characters who like to chat Talion up before initiating a fight to the death. From the start, you have access to a sword, dagger, and a ranged weapon. Like Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series, combat in Shadow of War puts a premium on countering and evading attacks, but if you want to take down packs of orcs in a hurry, you should play the game a little bit differently.

Research your targets

The captains and war chiefs you find scattered throughout Middle-earth: Shadow of War each come with their own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to fight your opponent before engaging them begins makes the ordeal significantly easier. Normally, entering Wraith mode and clicking on a captain will let you know his strengths, but in order to learn his vulnerabilities, you need to seek out “worms.” These messenger orcs are spread out among the forces of Mordor and marked with a small green diamond-like symbol above their head. By sneaking up behind them and “interrogating” one, you can get a full dossier new on any captain or war chief in a given region, or simply find out the weaknesses of one you already encountered.

This information will often give you an immediate edge in battle, such as when you learn that a target can be instantly killed by fire. But before you launch your attack, it’s important to know your target’s invulnerabilities as well. As you increase in level, captains and orcs will often be completely immune to arrows, executions, stealth, and even explosions. Knowing what notnot to do will help to keep your alive, but more importantly, it will keep you from looking stupid.

Don’t rely on counter prompts

When you’re fighting against standard orcs, you often see a symbol appear over their head — triangle on PlayStation 4 and ‘Y’ on Xbox One — as they are about to attack you, prompting you to counter their blow.

Countering every attacker keeps your enemies at bay and your combo chain going up, but counters don’t do very much damage until later in the game and breaks up your fighting flow. In other words, they can actually prolong fights. If you see a counter prompt appear, and you have enough time direct your analog stick at the enemy in question and attack your enemy before they can hit you. This manual counter does more damage early in the game and makes fights against multiple orcs significantly shorter.

Watch for explosives

By using “wraith mode” — L1 on PlayStation 4 or LB on Xbox One — you can examine Shadow of War’s world from Celebrimbor’s spectral perspective at any time, allowing you to locate enemy captains with ease. The special vision also highlights environmental elements that can help you in a fight, such as explosive grog barrels and bonfires, which are often the key to victory in tougher encounters. If you find yourself getting overrun, quickly switch to wraith mode and scan the ground for a barrel or a stack of barrels, then run in the other direction. Once you’re about 10 or so meters away, fire at the barrel to cause a massive explosion that will kill most standard enemies. While you typically won’t kill a captain this way, a well-timed explosion will cut down the number enemies you have to fight.

As soon as you get the chance, you should also invest one of your skill points in the ranged skill “Detonate.” This allows you to spend one of your arrows to teleport to a nearby bonfire and cause it to explode in an enormous fireball. Enemies tend to congregate around campfires, so you will often be able to take out several orcs before a fight even begins, and you don’t risk setting yourself on fire as you would by shooting a grog barrel.

Execute, execute, execute

Another skill you should acquire as soon as possible is “Execution.” Attacking enemies builds up your combo score during long battles, which in turn fills your “might” meter — the small orange bar right above the mini-map. Once it’s full, you can press triangle and circle, or ‘Y’ and ‘B’ buttons, to instantly kill a low-level enemy. Against stronger targets and captains, an execution will still knock off a significant portion of their health. Some captains are even “terrified” of executions and will flee in fear should you use one in their presence.

In addition to the main execution skill, you should also invest in the “Grim Resolve” sub-skill, which allows you to generate might whenever you’re damaged. This way, you’re always on your way to earning that next instant kill, even if you aren’t fighting perfectly.

Might does not automatically drain whenever you’re not in combat, so you can prepare for a tough fight by charging up your meter against a group of weak enemies, then bringing it to your target.

Building your army

In Shadow of War, you will very rarely be fighting alone. Talion gains the ability to call some of the orcs he’s enslaved into battle at any time. Building an army of orcs with our tips is surprisingly easy and having extra followers will give you an edge in just about every mission.

Isolate your target

Captains are almost always guarded by at least a few minions, regardless of where they’re located on the map. These grunts just make the process of enslaving your target more complicated than it has to be. Before you start your fight, check for explosives just as you would in a standard encounter, but don’t detonate them just yet. Instead, use a stealth attack to damage the captain, then detonate the explosive. This will often leave them in a dazed state, allowing you to hit them with even more attacks before they have a chance to respond.

Face their fears

If you managed to interrogate an orc prior to fighting a captain or war chief, you will be able to see any fears your target has. As we mentioned before, this can send them running before a fight even begins, but it will also leave them “broken,” which will be shown with a green emblem above their head. Hold the circle or ‘B’ button to interrogate a broken captain and you will be able to “dominate” them, forcing them to join your army, and have them fight for you, assassinate another captain, lead a siege against their former overlord when the time comes.

If the captain doesn’t have any fears, you can still break them and by dealing enough damage. Just fight them as you normally would, making sure to take advantage of their weaknesses, but don’t use an execution when their health gets too low — you might kill them by mistake.

It’s worth noting that you can only dominate captains who are your level or lower. If you can’t bring your enemy into the fold, you can shame them, lowering their level and sending them away. That way, the next time you fight them, you will be able to grab them.

Break up the team

When you go to the army menu in Shadow of War and select a war chief, you often see several lines pointing to other orcs under their control. The white lines show which captains are serving as bodyguards for a war chief. Fighting two, three, four, or even five captains is much more difficult and more time-consuming than simply taking on a war chief, but you can actually use them to your advantage.

Instead of going after a war chief immediately, seek out his bodyguards and dominate them to get them under your control. Next, select those captains from the “army” menu and command them to betray the war chief. When you confront the war chief, his bodyguards will stab him in the back instead of coming after you! With just a few more hits, you should be able to eliminate him or bring him under your control, as well.

Avoid the market

Middle-earth: Shadow of War includes two forms of currency that can be spent in the game’s online market — Mirian and gold. These can both be acquired through normal play, though gold is much rarer, and it can be tempting to purchase war chests or loot chests containing followers and weapons using this currency. While this may be worthwhile after you complete the final story mission, we don’t recommend it during the early stages of the game. These items and followers will not scale up with your level after you purchase them and you will be left with a group of weaklings who will be more of a liability than a boost to any of your armies. Just pocket the money you earn as you will need it later on.

You can improve certain weapons and armor, however, by completing challenges. Epic and legendary equipment will always come with a special task to accomplish. For epic gear, it’s usually something as simple as dominating a few enemies or getting a few stealth kills. Once you complete the challenge, select the weapon in your inventory and spend a tiny amount of Mirian in order to raise its damage or armor value. You’ll also find red, white, and green gems through normal play, and you can slot these into your gear to increase damage, health or item drop rate.

Where to focus your energy

Shadow of War features a tonton of different missions and activities for you to complete, but in order to get to the story’s conclusion more quickly, there are a few you should be focusing on, and one you should avoid.

Complete Eltariel’s quests

The game doesn’t do a good job of explaining this, but the assassin Eltariel’s questline is the most important in all of Shadow of Mordor, as completing it will unlock the final story mission. You’re free to complete the Bruz, Shelob, or Gondor quests as well, and you will need to do so in order to unlock the final Eltariel mission, but her quests should always be first on your radar.

Occasionally, you will complete one of Eltariel’s quests and find that the next one has not unlocked. All this means is you need to complete a quest in one of the other lines first. Just experiment with other missions, and the next Eltariel quest will eventually unlock.

Don’t worry about fortresses yet

A few key points in the story will force you to complete siege missions in order to capture a fortress and conquer one of the game’s major regions, but the fortresses don’t make a big difference in Shadow of War until after you’ve completed the final story mission. As such, don’t worry about building an absolutely unstoppable army in each region, because those orcs will be far too weak by the time you actually need them in the game’s epilogue, Shadow Wars.

The eye of the bright lord see all

When you check the overworld map for each region in Shadow of War, you see three Eye of Sauron symbols scattered throughout. These represent Haedir towers, which act as fast-travel points and can help you locate additional collectibles and missions. As each region is absolutely massive, unlocking these ahead of time can cut down on your travel considerably, especially when you’re seeking out individual captains to kill and dominate. A few quests also require all Haedir towers to be unlocked in a region before advancing, so you will be saving more time by doing them in advance.

You can also use Haedir towers to get you out of sticky situations. While they’re unavailable while you’re in combat or enemies are searching for you, if you find yourself surrounded and can’t find an easy way to leave a region, just jump to your map and fast-travel. You’ll even receive full health and a quiver of arrows when you spawn in the new location, as well.

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